Kullid kids who grew up in Jo’burg in the eighties will remember the value of a Parker pen set. Very few parents in Riverlea could afford one for their kids, but for those lucky enough to receive a pen of this stature, there was no concealing the joy or the naked rebuke of life before Parker pen ownership.
The social clout was enormous. The weight suddenly accrued by recipients of a Parker pen often attached to mense with the skinniest of social standings. I now think it had nothing to do with the craftsmanship that went into designing a pen as beautiful as a Parker. The magic was about the power of owning the brand.
I was around ten years old when a girl named Farieda, who was about a year or so older than me and lived in a block of flats around the corner from my grandfather, was blessed with a Parker. I only interacted with her when I’d occasionally join in with other kids from the neighbourhood playing kullid street games like rounders, china rope or kieriebekkie in a nearby park.
While out one afternoon buying tjoepas from a local house-shop after school, I happened upon Farieda announcing to the entire kullid doenya that she’d been gifted a Parker pen for having pwasa’d the entire month of Ramadaan without missing single day. Simultaneously, though not in so many words, she was declaring that she was the queen of Riverlea and that the rest of us, down to every last resident of the township, were now her peasant skapies.
Largely due to my earnest moralism, Farieda and I never moved beyond very casual acquaintanceship into friendship. While charming in her ponytailed chatterbox sweetness, Farieda was also the greatest liar since Jan Van Riebeek.
To be sure, all the kids who’d gathered around her at the gate of that tjoepa shop to witness the show-stopping reveal of a silver stainless steel Parker pen from the right side pocket of her school tunic, were knocked silly by the theatre of it all. She flashed it about like it was lightning she’d chased, captured and solidified, and as if she was destined to blaze the evidence of her feat across the Riverlea sky.
We knew better, however, than to believe her account of seeing the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) in her dreams the night before she got her pen as a gift from a rich uncle from Bushkoppies. Though some knew her uncle, far more familiar to us were her tales of the Prophet (SAW) appearing to her the day before any life-changing event. According to Farieda, she saw The Prophet’s (SAW) face form in the clouds the day before she got a Barbie doll for her birthday. According to science, though, not so much. The said day was a horrid one and fell between two equally horrid others pummeled by heavy rains from midnight to midnight across everybody’s Riverlea.
I theorized that her tales of apparition and divination were her way of spreading the word of Islam and bringing others into its fold. Fatefully, my theory would later be proven correct. Before the arrival of the Parker pen, I thought that if it was Farieda’s intention to convert her non-Muslim friends to Islam, she needed a new strategy. Because no kullid child, Christian or non-Muslim, was suddenly going to go to mosque five times a day to get what Farieda got – a knock-off, made-in-Taiwan Barbie called Kandi bought from the Oriental Plaza with less than four hairs on her head and packaged with a comb four times the size of her entire body. Particularly since, as many of my kullid Christian mense who grew up in eighties Jo’burg will recall, they could go to church to honour God and pray for a Barbie just once every Sunday and end up with the same damn result.
God was and will always be good, but non-madjat Barbie dolls were not in His plan for at least 80 percent of us living in Riverlea. Also, never mind one of the very first things you’re taught when you set foot in a madressah classroom is that the only being who knows what The Prophet (SAW) looked like is God. Farieda, we all knew, was not that special. Not more special than the rest of us, anyway.
That is, until she got her first Parker pen and the chestnut eyes of Noenie, a boy with curly, ear-long dreadlocks, widened with wonder at what Farieda called a ‘Muslim Miracle’. He had joined Farieda’s enchanted audience and was instantly beguiled by her multiple variations of a song whose only lyrics were, ‘Look what I got! Look what I got!’
Farieda and Noenie moved in different circles. I was in neither of them, so I knew as little about Noenie as I did Farieda. All I really knew was that he was half-Muslim – a socio-cultural phenomenon unique to kullid South Africans loosely defined as:
‘Even if just your niggie se pa se oompie se ouma groetjie se auntie Linky wat ‘n Slamse slaaf gewees’it is in your ancestry then you’re half-Muslim and, when a time came for it to matter, no one could tell you nutting, my bra!’
The same was true for Muslims with what we called ‘Christian blood’. The only real time it ever came up was when some Christian kids wanted the day off from school to celebrate Labarang (Eid) or some Muslim kids had boyfriends or girlfriends who were Christian. The reasoning would run something like:
‘It’s okay because my auntie Dora is a Christian and she is a Sunday school teacher in the church. And that makes me half-Christian, kanala!’
Meanwhile, auntie Dora also owned a side business selling Mandrax.
Just two weeks after the unveiling of Farieda’s Parker pen, Noenie suddenly became Nuroedeen having converted to what I can only describe as a ‘full-Muslim’ and was seen with Farieda, galloping arm-in-arm with her to madressah. In a bright red kuffiah (fez) replete with a gold tossel and alles wat Slams is, Nuroedeen was Farieda’s Muslim disciple. ‘Muslim Miracle No. 2!’ Farieda would probably have claimed, but it was only ever, to anyone across the length and breadth of Riverlea universe, the magic of the Parker pen really at work.
Sadly things went terribly sour between them after the disappearance of Farieda’s Parker pen. Then rumour had it that Nuroedeen was newly blessed with a silver Parker pen.
The way the story goes is that Farieda tried everything, even publicly lambasting Nuroedeen, who had transformed back into Noenie, with the scariest of Muslim kullid solicitations of God’s name, ‘Kassam! You gonna see! Allah is going punish you stone dead!’
She had no choice but to use a dozen of her mother’s samoosas as bartering collateral. Her mom was a culinary genius. The promise of a dozen mince samoosas Farieda had dangled before Noenie encouraging him to do the right thing by her was among the mightiest things you could dangle before anyone in Riverlea.
And, sure enough, the lure of Farieda’s mother’s ingenious kitchen creations was enough to bring Noenie back to Farieda’s door one Friday afternoon.
‘Dumb as a mullet.’
That’s how a madressah teacher of mine would often describe behaviour which led to one’s own demise. Like inviting someone who just stole the most prized of your possessions back to your home. Of course they’re just going to do you in all over again.
This is exactly what happened.
Noenie showed up on Farieda’s stoep with her Parker, but before they made the exchange, he grabbed the fried samoosas from her hands and ran for both his half-Muslim and half-Christian lives.
Could what followed have passed as Farieda’s Muslim Miracle No. 3? Perhaps. She was certainly nobody’s mullet.
Yes, Farieda did get her pen back. Word on the street was that later that evening Nuroedeen’s mother had trekked on foot from one end of Riverlea to the other with Noenie just to ensure the safe return of Farieda’s pen – a decision she made after biting into one of the treats her son had claimed to have bought and discovering the taste of samoosas lovingly filled by Farieda with cigarette stompies.